Baseball Coaching Keys Everyone should Know
The baseball coaching keys are the same as those for all sports. The great John Wooden said that he thought he did a better coaching job in some years that they did not win the championship. Winning may be the best measure of success at the highest levels, but the best coaches do not even mention the word. They worry more about players playing well and up to their potential than about winning. The triumphs will take care of themselves. The best coaches convince teams that it is all about improvement and effort. Success is the result of that convincing, no matter what the scoreboard reads. Youth coaches should learn from the best, focus less on winning and more on player development.
Most volunteer youth baseball coaches go into coaching with the right intentions. They begin the season with enthusiasm and high hopes for the team. Unfortunately, things begin to crumble. Of course, some parents are unreasonable and expect miracles. They do not understand why teams do not win and why the coach has not turned their son or daughter into the superstar they believe them to be. Coaches must realize they cannot please everyone. Other parents begin with the understanding that the coach can only do so much. They give the coach the benefit of the doubt up to a point. But, once player and parent disenchantment comes, coaches may question why they wanted to coach in the first place.
To keep understanding and support of players and parents, coaches must know the baseball coaching keys that earn respect. Respect comes from two things. One, getting the most out of players, which pleases parents. Two, keeping things exciting, which pleases kids. Following are many of the coaching strategies I have used over the years that I found work for earning that coaching respect.
Baseball Coaching Keys – Making a Difference
- Never just wing it. Whenever I have gone to the ballpark and said, “My coaching experience will get me through,” I have left unfulfilled. A lack of a plan usually backfires and shows up with unorganized players and less learning. Coaches should prepare with written details for practices and with ready lineups for every inning of games. People, players, and parents, notice and appreciate preparation. Detailed practices and solid pre-game planning show the coach cares and is the first step to earning respect.
- Bring the enthusiasm every day. People often wonder why “Jerk” coaches sometimes thrive in sports. They survive and succeed because they care that players learn and improve, even with misguided tactics. Players and parents admire coaches who act like they want to be there. Many coaches “bring it” on game day but slack off in practice. The best have a spark all the time. Enthusiasm has a way of rubbing off on others.
- Use inspirational stories. My students used to seem a little intimidated by me, and I am not an intimidating person, just older. That intimidation seemed to disappear when I began telling stories of my and other athlete’s career. Sports narratives with messages stick with players as much or more than the baseball skills and strategies.
- Define success. Coaches must explain what the coaches consider success to be. Success is hard work along with enjoying that hard work. Players must understand that winning and statistics are not the only measures of success. The message I try to impart is that hard work is the goal and the sign of success, but only when it comes freely, with enjoyment. Working hard without enjoyment is the sign of a driven athlete and one headed towards burnout.
- Create a learning environment. Learning comes from using many of the players’ senses – seeing, hearing, and feeling. Some players are visual learners, some audio and most experiential. Many players are a combination of all those. Coaches must provide helpful demonstrations, clear explanations, and the drills that adjust muscle memory.
- Ask questions. “Who can tell me what I mean by that?” “What did u see?” “What do you do when this occurs?” are examples of questions that keep players accountable for learning. Teaching players to keep their heads up, their eyes open and their minds focused are the keys to learning.
- Encourage questions. It is difficult for coaches to know what players understand. Coaches must encourage and ask questions and praise those who ask. They should make it clear that players must ask when unsure of things and that no question is too basic. I often tell my students that practice does not end until they ask some questions.
- Find their best positions for success. At the youth levels, giving players experience at many places on the diamond is best. But, coaches should also observe players most comfortable spots. Those findings apply in the field as well as in the batting order. That knowledge helps coaches place players in position to succeed in tight games and in the most important games. It is important that players get their fair share of playing time, but not all players want the pressure situations. Putting players in spots where failure and embarrassment are likely when it is avoidable, is a coaching no-no.
- Measure results in practice. Game statistics for youth baseball often do more harm than good, a story for another day. But, keeping statistics in practice is a beneficial way of seeing when progress comes. I often have players perform a skill so many times and measure their success rate. Then they practice that skill for a spell, usually with a drill, before re-measuring the same thing to see their progress. Most players show some improvement after the work, although some may not. Either way, those results provide good lessons for players and is a good way to find out which baseball drills help.
- Offer variety. Boredom is a fun killer and shows up soon with many players. After all my years of coaching, I still come across new drills and ways to teach the game. The more varied ways of teaching the same skills and strategies, the better to keep players engaged.
Other Baseball Coaching Keys
- Give individual practice goals – short and long term ones. I can help build players’ confidence in a short time, but I cannot give them the correct baseball swing overnight, if ever. Coaches should help each player decide what things need improving and the time frame for that. I often tell young players, “By freshman year of high school we need to have this down pat.” Some skills take more time to change than others do. It helps to figure those out, so frustration does not set in for the changes that take more time to achieve. Expecting too much too soon leads to frustration and burned out players.
- “Ask” players to just give it a try. Successful and stubborn players have difficulty recognizing the need for change. But, good coaches point out that things that work now, will not down the road. There is no substitute for the correct fundamentals at the end of the day. The point is that players respond better to asking than demanding.
- Know when and who to challenge. An art exists to knowing when players need more challenge and when they need more confidence. When the game seems to come easy, it is time for more challenges and when they struggle, it is time for confidence-building. It is important to explain to all players why the challenge is necessary and that they should not shy away from challenges.
- Have players practice at game speed. An often used statement I use, “If you are not messing it up once in a while, you are not working fast enough.” Playing it safe is not for practice. Working at game speed is the best challenge coaches can offer. Game competition is hard to replicate in practice because of the lack of pressure, but having players practice as if in a game is best.
- Never give up on players, who appear un-coachable. It is easy to direct the coaching attention away from some players and give it only to those with better attitudes. But, all players are different, especially at the beginning of the season. I am often surprised at who the better students turn out to be. Continuing to offer all players constructive advice and earned praise is essential and is the sign of a special coach.
- Do something memorable at every practice. Kids may not remember the baseball skills taught at practice but they remember the out of the ordinary things. Having a guest speaker or coach is memorable. Having autograph days, trivia and home run trot contests are other examples. Coaches should include one special thing at every practice and contests are an easy “hit” to fall back on.
- Give parents credit for standout child behavior. Coaches should praise parents for a job well done, too. “You have done an excellent job; your son’s eyes are always on me when I speak,” is an example. This is an excellent way of praising kids, of course, and a win-win for all. Praising play is good, but pointing out healthy attitudes and effort is even better. Recognizing parents’ role in those attitudes is positive coaching.
- Praise effort in front of everyone. The players who get all the hits will get enough praise from all, but coaches should not forget the players who give their best. When coaches see improved actions, hard work, and. determined attitudes, it bears mention in front of everyone. In that way, players begin to understand the things that matter – effort and preparation. With that knowledge, they are more likely to practice and work hard and feel less pressure to always have to get hits.
- Give out something. This giveaway does not mean a candy treat, but anything sports related that helps players learn and get excited about the game. Coaches can use their imagination for what to give out. Most kids enjoy receiving things, even if it is just a quote or baseball related picture. At season’s end, players will have a little library of handouts that teach the game and provide a memory of the season. Finding baseball related pictures and information is time-consuming, so giving a piece of candy is OK once in a while.
- Give homework. There is not enough time at team practices to change player muscle memory for exceptional improvement. Providing concrete ways of practicing at home gives dedicated kids a chance to develop. Whether kids do the work or not is up to each player’s desire and interest level.
Finally, just as the best coaches do not mention winning much, they also do not go around insisting players have fun. The baseball coaching keys keep things exciting by using the above techniques and with a patient, caring demeanor. The players themselves will decide if they are having fun.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.